LIFT: Holm Friebe and Philipp Albers, “The Hedonistic Company”

Holm Friebe and Philipp Albers delivered a presentation at LIFT on a topic that’s close to my heart: the future of work, exploring new forms of self-organizing “unorganizations” of creative free agents. Of course, I’ve been thinking about similar issues as I consider how to scale Remarkk! Consulting, so I took particular interest and had a great conversation with the guys over fondue. (which, btw, is the best part of LIFT!)

Friebe’s book, Wir nennen es Arbeit (“We call it work”) is a bestseller in Germany that has been described as “youth economic manifesto”. They organized a conference in Berlin also called Wir nennen es Arbeit Festival-Camp, which looked like tremendous fun and is possible inspiration for a Toronto FreeAgentCamp or Future of Work conference. These guys apparently invented Powerpoint Karaoke (fact check anyone?), and put on events like a poetry slam with sms voting and electro-shock feedback. They are looking to develop coworking spaces to accommodate their starfish adhocracy.  This is not your father’s creative agency.
Presentation notes after the jump…


Digital Bohemia: The end of work as we know it; people want to work in new structures; how do you integrate individuals with strong sense of self-determination, people fed up with hierarchies; The Penguin Paradox.

Their “company” is called Zentrale Intelligenz Agentur (Central Intelligence Agency) which they describe as “a capitalist-socialst joint venture, designed to establish new forms of collaboration”. People are contributing in Berlin and around the world. They described the operating principles with seven (or so) rules.

Seven Rules:

Rule 1, The 7 Nos – No office. No employees. No fixed costs. No pitches. No exclusivity (company doesn’t own your life). No working hours (results only). No bullshit.

Rule 2: Work-Work Balance – balance projects for clients with your passion projects, given equal priority and attention.

Rule 3: Instant Gratification – profit immediately with work; no salaries, billable time/project, always keep 10% of profit for the company for play money; pay bills immediately as well

Rule 4: Pluralism of Methods – tech solutions for social problems, use online tools for collaboration; Skype, Google calendar, Google Docs

Rule 5: Fixed Ideas – live up to your intellectual obsessions and dark desires at work; take them seriously; don’t be afraid to offend people;

Rule 6: Responsibilities Without Hierarchies – each project as to have one person incharge, but it can be anybody; beginning of year retreat in the country; rethink the business model; sift through projects and leaders take them on;

Rule 7: The Power of Procrastination – don’t try to be too efficient; good deas will adapt and catch on, even if you neglect them for a while; they have to ripen; there is a natural Darwinism of ideas

Rule 7.5: Marketing by Feuilleton – no adverstising, no PR; do something interesting and press coverage will be yours; they get coverage in the culture section

Conclusion – A Hedonistic Company not only changes the nature of work, it shifts the domain of that work.

5 thoughts on “LIFT: Holm Friebe and Philipp Albers, “The Hedonistic Company””

  1. Although I am living in Germany and often heard about Powerpoint Karaoke, I had totally no idea that it was invented here. This was definitely a big LIFT surprise for me.

    I am not really convinced by the ZIA, but maybe because Timothy Ferris’ 4-hour-workweek is easier to understand and delivers a clearer point. Many of their points seem random (no office, no fixed costs) and are not connected to a better and free work life. I am waiting for more general recommendations that are practical and feasible for others and not just one example how someone maybe lucky or ambitious did it. Despite the contra, I really like thinking about future forms of work because I see at the end of my studies either the persons following a typical career or entrepreneurs, freelancer, travelers who try a different approach for their life. There is a change going on.

  2. I haven’t read Timothy Ferris, but I’m a bit put off by my perception of his followers as cultish, ego-centric and hyper-simplified in the tradition of self-help books generally.

    While ZIA haven’t figured it all out, what’s interesting is that they look at work from a cultural point of view. They are artists and cultural provocateurs who happen to have a business together. And yeah, the no office thing will probably drop off the next version of that slide deck and will probably introduce a positive thing in it’s place: coworking!

    Pete Forde and Unspace talk about themselves as a band, using the culture, values and norms of punk rock in how they do business as a company.

    It’s not just about doing the same business in new ways, it’s about a lifestyle, a way to make meaning that connects life to work within a social context.

    Lots to think about.

  3. I enjoyed this presentation tremendously. I’d have loved to see it live. The lifestyle angle is clearly one of the fundamental drivers behind many of the changes taking place in the workplace. On a flight last month I read this piece in Spirit magazine. In a bastardization of the original research, the author concluded that “No more than 22 percent of your office knick-knacks should be personal.” The fact that we even discuss a limit (whatever that limit is) on how much of your personal life is allowed to intrude on your work life is a sad comment on how unhealthy many organizations are.

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